Editorial : An important housing support withdrawn
Certainly, the calamitous national and global economic events of the past two years have demonstrated that financial distress touches all of us and all of our enterprises and ambitions. This week, a derivative of the huge economic dislocation we've suffered dealt a heavy blow to the effort, underway now for nearly a decade, to provide affordable rental housing for Vineyarders who need it.
The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority learned that it must find $23,000 to $26,000 in monthly support for the remainder of the 2010 fiscal year to help underwrite its rental assistance program. Island Affordable Housing Fund, beset by fundraising disappointments, including donor pledges that have not been kept, has had to step back from its commitment to the housing authority program, leaving a shortfall of between $150,000 and $200,000. The program, which consumes about $554,000 a year, to subsidize rents for 85 Island families, budgeted for $300,000 from the IAHF this fiscal year, together with $254,000 in Community Preservation Act funds from the several Island towns. Replacing those missing funds and doing so in a timely fashion, is an immense job, just when the low winter season is upon us, and the season of generosity is in our wake.
IAHF, which has supported the rental program to the tune of $2.64 million since 2001, has set out to find the money it needs to fulfill its commitment to the program, applying to the sturdy supporters who have so often underwritten IAHF's work over the years and finding fresh donors who will understand the need. And, IAHF leaders will be seeking your help. In a statement from its director, the fund said, "It is the intent of IAHF to resume its contribution to this program at the earliest possible date." Still, the challenge is enormous.
The landlords participating in the program, according to RHA leaders, are not big companies, real estate developers, or big time landlords. They are modest income people themselves, and they depend on the subsidized rent payments they received from RHA to pay their own bills, including the costs of creating the rental housing in the first place. These landlords are helpful and constructive.
The tenants, many of them, are RHA subsidy recipients because the economy here has pulled the rug out from under them, according to David Vigneault, director of the RHA. They are families with two wage earners and long histories as renters who've now become one earner families who lack $200 to $300 a month to make their rent.
And finding money to fill the hole in the rental assistance budget is only the near-term challenge. There's next year, and the year after, and then decades ahead. The affordable housing need persists - for reasonably priced rental housing, for reasonably priced housing to buy, and for seasonal housing that might serve the flood of short-term employees. And so does the need to encourage the Vineyard economy to expand, so that modest income families see their household economics improve and become self-sustaining, and marginally housed families in need of subsidies become less numerous.